People Did Travel in 2020—Here’s How

The founder of experience booking platform looks at the trends of pandemic travel.

People Did Travel in 2020—Here’s How

Car camping and drive-through activities were the norm in 2020.

Photo by Andrey Yurlov / Shutterstock

As states across the USA enter their second major lockdown since COVID-19 emerged this spring, it’s hard to imagine a time when we traveled. Many simply want to recall a time when we saw our families in person. But according to some interesting data from, a booking site for activities and experiential travel, June through August saw all-time record bookings nationwide, says Peek founder Ruzwana Bashir. Where were people going? What were they doing?

As cases declined and states loosened their lockdown restrictions, Americans exploded with pent-up demand. Though rather than go back to their usual activities, Bashir says they saw people shy away from cities and start exploring the offerings closer to home. It was cautious travel—small groups or private tours, outdoors, on the water, walking instead of bussing. Peek was well suited to connect travelers to those activities, which are all considered less risky in a pandemic.

“We don’t work with large museums and attractions. We’re not the place you come to buy a ticket for the Empire State Building. We work with small businesses that help you do a dolphin tour in Florida, or see the Everglades—that’s our focus,” says Bashir. The Harvard MBA grad and Fulbright scholar started in 2012 in response to her struggles to find a one-stop shop for authentic local experiences while on vacation.

Turns out Peek’s core mission has become a common way people traveled in 2020, and the trend may be here to stay.

Here’s a small sample of how we started seeing the world differently this year:

People are staying local—though the definition of “local” changed.

“We considered something ‘local’ if it was less than 50 miles [from the person booking], and it doubled from 50 to 100 miles. [Travelers] might go overnight somewhere, go camping,” says Bashir. “Over 80 percent of bookings have been in state. People are getting around by car.”

More late-afternoon and evening tours during the week.

“Because kids are doing a lot of virtual school, one of the things we’re seeing as a trend is [families] doing things post 3 p.m. with their kids. Bike tours after school have gotten more popular.”

Virtual cooking classes and winetastings.

“More corporations are also looking for that,” says Bashir. “They say, we need help to do virtual team building. I think it’s called unstructured time—creativity and innovation all happens through unstructured time. It’s hard to do virtually, to build trust and still have fun. We’ve been working with teams to do that: virtual cooking master classes with a James Beard winner or virtual winetasting, where we ship things to you in advance.”

A spike in “drive-through” fun.

“There’s a lot more drive-through stuff,” says Bashir, like art exhibits, animal experiences that are good for kids, and new this year, drive-through haunted houses.

Everyone’s getting outside, even in the winter.

The notion of being outside year-round is more Scandinavian than American, but with COVID, businesses from restaurants to paddleboard outfitters are adapting to routines shifting outdoors. Bashir said boat rentals—kayaks, paddleboards, watercraft—were among the most popular bookings all summer; ziplining and horseback riding popped up. Into fall, the focus turned to farm outings, like apple picking and orchard visits, and those aforementioned drive-through haunted houses. Places like Long Beach, California, with a lot of coastal opportunities, saw three times the normal number of bookings well into September, says Bashir.

Tours have adapted to a contactless world.

Bashir and her team worked to help many of the thousands of small businesses represented on their site get SBA loans during the worst of the crisis, as well as run weekly workshops and webinars to help them adapt to a COVID world. A lot of these companies didn’t even have websites, says Bashir, so we helped them “turn their technology to 100 percent contactless, where you check-in through a mobile phone or iPad, or sign a waiver online instead of by clipboard.”

Virtual activities aren’t going away.

Even postpandemic, we may be more sensitive to large crowds and gatherings, thinks Bashir, so virtual travel will still have a place in our world. But it won’t replace in-person gatherings. “We want you to go out and do fun things that help you connect with your loved ones,” says Bashir. “Experiences may be even bigger than before, because we’re more grateful for them and know how important they are.”

>>Next: 40 Socially Distanced Vacation Ideas

Laura Dannen Redman is Afar’s editor at large. She’s an award-winning journalist who can’t sit still and has called Singapore, Seattle, Australia, Boston, and the Jersey Shore home. She’s based in Brooklyn with her equally travel-happy husband and daughters.
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